Rob Bradford of WEEI has reported that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell met with free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, who made a surprise appearance at the winter meetings. Although Hamilton took meetings with a number of teams, his conversation with Boston raises questions about what is going on in Boston.
As things currently stand the Red Sox have a glut of outfielders on their 2013 roster. The starters appear to be newly signed Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, along with incumbent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Youngsters Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish are waiting in the wings to get whatever at-bats might fall their way off the bench. Signing Hamilton would further complicate the logjam.
Other than perhaps a healthy Ellsbury, there is little question that Hamilton is more talented than any other Red Sox outfielder. However, signing him would run counter to the positive clubhouse culture Yahoo.com’s Jeff Passan says the team is trying to build this offseason.
Hamilton isn't a bad guy per se, but he has well-documented off-the-field issues and has created multiple distractions in the past, like blaming a slump on vision problems caused by a caffeine dependency. A personality and media presence as big as Hamilton’s would be a poor fit in the brotherhood of bros that the Red Sox are trying to create.
The Red Sox could choose to trade one of their outfielders, but who would be shown the door? Gomes and Victorino just arrived, so it’s pretty obvious they aren't going anywhere. Rumors have swirled about Ellsbury being on the block, but according to WEEI’s Alex Speier, Cherington recently made a public declaration of support for his center fielder, stating, “You answer the phone and take calls and listen to ideas. Our expectation is Jacoby will be here and be our center fielder.”
If Ellsbury were traded, it would create a void in center that would be difficult to fill. According to FanGraphs.com, Victorino has seen his range decline. Gomes has the defensive grace of a marble statue, and Hamilton is a below average defensive outfielder, who was often miscast as a center fielder while playing with the Texas Rangers.
To be fair, despite their current cornucopia of outfielders, the Red Sox would be taken to task if they didn't at least kick the tires on Hamilton. His 162 game average for his major league career is a .304 batting average with 35 home runs and 122 RBI, making him one of the most elite offensive players in baseball.
Bradford indicated that the Red Sox would only be interested in Hamilton on a shorter deal than the five-to-seven year contract he has been rumored to be seeking. However, the twin three-year, $39 million deals Boston gave Victorino and Mike Napoli indicate they are willing to pay more in the short-term for players willing to take fewer years. This could end up being an appealing option to Hamilton.
While Hamilton’s meeting with Red Sox brass may amount to nothing, it raises many questions until his final destination becomes known.
Statistics via BaseballReference